TSINTZINA & MT. PARNON FOREST REHABILITATION
Tsintzina, January 2008,
Four months on since the August-September fires and the lingering question is, what of the day after. Meanwhile, dozens of Tsintzinans and friends at home and abroad, have expressed a willingness to contribute to a forest rehabilitation effort.
In the immediate aftermath, local authorities got their priorities right by attending to anti-flood works –to preserve the thin layer of surface soil on a largely rocky terrain- and extending a regular flow of animal feed to displaced shepherds. What seemingly did not exist, was an integrated plan of forest rehabilitation, as no one had ever expected a disaster of that magnitude.
One of the worst-hit areas has been the perimeter of the village of Agrianoi. The Bília hill in particular on the village west, was completely burned out. Its vegetation was sustained on a thin layer of surface soil, accumulated over the centuries above a rocky underneath. Most of Bília’s soil washed in the village in a late September thunderstorm. Bulldozers had to clear the roads, as several homeowners battled for days to clean houses and yards.
Bília’s example is typical of most hilly areas around Tsintzina. Soil removal by rain and wind, could render entire areas barren, with no prospect of future reforestation (see pictures). Sensing this, a number of Agrianiates living in Athens, Sparta and elsewhere, grouped to form an Association, which was highly effective to raising awareness and putting pressure on various government agencies to get things going. Their regularly updated blog space is to be found in www.agrianoi.blogspot.com where those fluent in Greek can read more.
Tsintzinian reaction appeared more fragmented, as a large number of locals, friends and regular visitors were seeking a coordinated reaction. Curiously, this void perhaps may have best served the interests of the forest itself:
According to officials of the Department of Forestry, what was initially required, was the immediate construction of as many makeshift ‘log-blocks’ as possible (see pictures). This was done to a large scale, wherever the forest was accessible. Secondly, burned areas needed to remain clear of human or animal presence, not to disturb the natural process of seeding during the autumn season.
The Forestry Department has already collected a sizeable amount of pine seed (well over 130 sacks of pinecones or ‘karoúmbala’). These were sent to laboratories for drying and processing. Depending on the weather but circa late February, contractors are expected to place the processed seeds where the need seems greater.
A limited supply of young trees for planting in selected spots is also available via the Forestry Department. Volunteers could assist here, as only basic skills, an axe and a few liters of water are needed. Volunteers, individual or larger groups, could contact the Forestry Department in Sparta, to express interest to participate.
Scientists have meanwhile advised authorities on the following steps for infrastructure priorities and medium-term forest rehabilitation:
· Priority construction of a wide grid of forest lanes and breaks, to avoid rapid fire spread and assist ground accessibility in the future. This job will be shared by a number of state agencies, involving primarily the Lakonia Prefecture, the Municipality of Therapnai and the Forestry Department.
· Priority construction of additional water reservoirs in remote forest spots, to a scale over 30 metric tons each. Three reservoirs are planned for immediate construction, including one near the Monastery of St. Anargiroi (some 3 miles southwest of Tsintzina village). Water reservoirs allow for a quick resupply of operating helicopters. They can be easily refilled by local means or inversely, supply fire trucks and other mobile ground apparatus operating nearby.
· The continuing assistance of natural seeding process, which should yield tangible results within three to five years.
· Selective planting of young trees but care should be taken (see below) on plant selection or not to interfere with seed-assisted forest zones.
· A wait-to-see on how many of apparently burned trees may revive within the first two consecutive seasons. Estimates here vary. Early rains in September and October allow for optimism that a significant percentage of black pine & alpine (elato) trees will ultimately do revive. Whilst not fully or aesthetically perhaps, even the slightest tree revival accelerates the natural seeding process.
· Where not revived, the taking-down of burned trees should commence and continue on a steady pace, after spring 2009.
· Finally, scientists advised against straight-out replanting of the elato- pine variety, as it is quite sensitive to direct sunlight and heat. So scientists talk of perhaps an 80% to 90% failure rate if a straight-out effort is attempted. Artificial replanting should commence with the more resilient beach-pine (pefko) and black pine (mavropefko) species, and an attempt with elata will follow interlaced, as these trees grow sufficiently to provide a “screen” of the right conditions.
The evident warming of the area in recent years within living memory, constitutes perhaps the major setback in forest rehabilitation. So more general environmental issues, do play a direct role in the future of Mt. Parnon forest rehabilitation too.
(to be continued)
A Summary Assessment of Last Summer’s Firefighting Effort
Pooled accounts of the major factors contributing to the unprecedented scale of forest damage, seem to converge at least on the following:
· An insufficient grid of man-made lanes and forest breaks. This combined with unusually strong winds, accommodated a rapid spread of the firefronts beyond effective control.
· For the first few days, a lack of adequate and well-directed aerial support. This was the result of several fronts raging simultaneously throughout Greece. More significantly, it was the initial unavailability of the Erickson S-64 helicopters, which proved highly effective in the days to come.
· The questionable strategy of an already overstretched Fire Brigade. Several people on the ground argued that –where available- firemen seemed primarily interested in preventing fires from spreading within villages (as if they were fighting urban fires), being somewhat ineffective too in preventing firefront revivals. Several clashes occurred between firemen and locals, in particular on two occasions: When the fire crossed over Karya plateau on Ausust 28th, and in the terrible revival in Fities hill on September 2nd, which is blamed by some on a questionable order of what proved to be a premature air support withdrawal, at noon.
· The absence of a suitably trained and equipped Greek force to specifically deal with forest fires, like the French Commando Unit..
On the other hand, factors that proved highly effective in bringing fire to bear included,
· The several water reservoirs constructed in a wide area within the forest complex. This allowed for a quick resupply of ground-operating vehicles and helicopters, which were often able to perform one flying sortie every 7-15 minutes.
· The large number of village tractors, equipped with 2 to five-ton trailer water tanks and spraying equipment. Assisted by several volunteers each, they were highly efficient in circling fronts or simultaneously reaching several isolated lingering-smoke spots to prevent fire revivals.
· A majority forest population of black pine and alpine elatos instead of the highly inflammable beach-pine (pefko). Beach-pine were the major means of fire spread throughout the entire forest complex. But when reaching a black-pine or elatos thicket and in the absence of strong wind, the fire will slow down considerably, often creeping underneath but leaving the overhead trees virtually unaffected.
· The sizeable, well-equipped & trained French Commando Unit, which showed particular expertise and resilience in their effort. The French were able to slip through great distances of non-accessible terrain, spreading onward to a wide area and dealing with lurking-fire spots. Their shoulder-strapped water tanks, mobile (inflatable) reservoirs, “miniature” chainshaws, and command & control equipment, allowed them to work quickly and effectively, were others looked on, unable to intervene.
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